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Missile Defense: Ballistic Missile Defense System Testing Delays Affect Delivery of Capabilities

GAO-16-339R Published: Apr 28, 2016. Publicly Released: Apr 28, 2016.
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What GAO Found

GAO found that while the Missile Defense Agency (MDA) successfully conducted key flight and ground tests for the Ballistic Missile Defense System (BMDS) in fiscal year 2015, it did not achieve its testing goals, which increases the risk for future testing delays. Specifically, MDA conducted 11 out of 20 flight tests, including key flight tests to deliver its European Phased Adaptive Approach (EPAA) Phase 2 increment that provides defense of regional allies and forces in Europe. However, from fiscal year 2010 to 2015, MDA delayed or removed about 40 percent of its planned flight tests. To execute all of its delayed and planned flight tests, MDA must increase its pace by conducting more tests, delaying tests, or removing tests. The constant change to BMDS testing makes it difficult to trace progress and costs. GAO previously recommended in March 2011 that MDA report costs associated with tests, and any changes to tests, in the BMDS Accountability Report (BAR) or budget documentation submitted to Congress. MDA concurred and has partially implemented this recommendation. MDA officials explained that they do not track the actual costs of flight tests; thus, it would be a significant undertaking to compile this information.

In fiscal year 2015, MDA made progress developing integrated BMDS capabilities, but the agency continued to face challenges that delayed the delivery of BMDS assets. MDA completed the integration of Aegis Ashore to the EPAA architecture, upgrading its ability to launch interceptors, and introduced new capabilities to improve performance. Despite technical, funding, and testing challenges that have delayed 12 of 27 capabilities, MDA nearly met its fiscal 2015 delivery goals by completing the installation of Aegis Ashore and delivering most planned Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense and Ground-based Missile Defense interceptors. MDA also took actions such as delaying full-rate production decisions until after testing and successfully conducting an interceptor flight test before production to mitigate some acquisition risks. However, it continues to use acquisition practices that put BMDS elements at risk for cost growth and performance shortfalls. As GAO previously found in May 2015, potential exists to reduce acquisition risks for several MDA efforts that are pursuing high-risk approaches by building knowledge before program commitments are made and testing before production is initiated and made recommendations to strengthen the acquisition practices. DOD has taken positive steps to implement them; however, it has not fully completed all necessary efforts. GAO is not making any new recommendations in this review, but believes those prior recommendations remain valid.

Why GAO Did This Study

Since 2002, MDA has received approximately $123 billion to develop and deploy the BMDS, which is a highly complex group of systems. MDA plans to spend around $38 billion through fiscal year 2020 to continue its efforts to develop, integrate, and field BMDS elements and targets necessary for testing.

The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2012 contained a provision for GAO to report on the extent to which MDA has achieved its stated acquisition goals and objectives, as reported in its acquisition baselines in the BAR, and to include any other findings and recommendations on MDA acquisition programs and accountability, as appropriate. Thisreview addresses the (1) extent to which MDA and its missile defense elements progressed in achieving its fiscal year 2015 testing goals as reported in its acquisition baselines and (2) the progress, if any, MDA achieved in developing and delivering capabilities and assets for the Ballistic Missile Defense System.

GAO focused on MDA’s testing and asset delivery goals necessary to achieve an integrated BMDS. GAO analyzed and compared testing goals in the March 2014 BAR against the baseline goals in the March 2015 BAR; reviewed BMDS test policies, management documents, and planning documents; and interviewed MDA and other relevant officials.  GAO reviewed and analyzed relevant policies and asset delivery goals baselined in the March 2014 BAR, and reviewed available system-engineering and integration planning documents including prior years’ Master Integration Plans which contain descriptions, risks, and schedules for integrated capability deliveries, and MDA responses to GAO information requests.

For more information, contact Cristina Chaplain at (202) 512-4841 or

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Ballistic missile defenseDefense acquisition programsDefense cost controlPerformance measuresSchedule slippagesTestingWarfareSystems testingMissile warning systemsBallistic missile defense